Unknown starts with a pretty legitimate premise but then it quickly spirals into the incredulous instead of the incredible, leaving with a movie that’s a little too easy to mock and take the piss out of. (5/10)
The plot was stale. There’s neither a simpler way of putting it nor a less insulting one. If I seem to be saying this very often,I apologize but I honestly can’t tell whether I’m just getting jaded or whether Hollywood seems to be running out of ideas. I can’t really pinpoint any other movie that’s used this kind of plot before, though I’m sure they’re out there somewhere. Flightplan comes to mind, as do Shutter Island and A Beautiful Mind though all of them are different enough that any accusations of plagiarism will hold no water. There are a couple of things that don’t quite make sense or are left unexplained or that I just didn’t get. One, why on Earth did Jurgen feel the need to commit suicide? Sure, Cole had a gun and was going to kill, but one would think that the logical response to that (especially since Jurgen knew who Cole was and had invited him over himself) would be to get a gun of his own and shot the son-of-a-bitch instead going into long expository ramblings (seriously, Jurgen, Cole knows he’s the head of an undercover assassination unit, there’s no need to tell him). Did Jurgen try to poison Cole first, by giving him the tea? It’s not really explained and that scene just felt like an easy way of getting rid of Jurgen.
Next, how did Liz know that Martin Harris was believing his own cover when she saw him the first time after he came out of his coma? Finding his partner would be the logical reaction for someone coming out of an actual coma and she had no reason to believe he had forgotten about the mission at that point. I’m not saying it makes no sense at all, but it’s one of the things that they could have explained. I can’t think of a way they could have done that without making it seem clumsy, but that’s not my job. Third, why would anyone want to kill Professor Bressler? Because they don’t want world hunger to end? I find it hard to believe that the people in the agricultural industry are that ruthless. For anyone trying to be cynical and saying “Everyone wants money” or something of that sort, you sound like one of those idiots going around wearing tin hats so the government’s satellites can’t read their minds. Farmers don’t assassinate people. In any case, Liz clearly had orders to steal the plans – that means a single company was involved rather than the industry as a whole and that just seems stupid. Sorry, but farmers hiring assassins doesn’t sound like the plot-line of a credible movie. Lastly, if Harris was the unit’s best man, why the fuck wouldn’t they try to jog his memory instead of instantly trying to killing him? Surely the cost of getting him to remember is less than retraining and using a lesser man? Sigh. Moving on…no wait, one more. What is the exact point of Liz in the whole movie? She just stands around does some really, really lame bits of spy stuff and dies defusing a bomb she didn’t need to defuse. That felt ridiculously contrived. Sure, they made some sorry excuse of her not wanting it on here record or something, but if she’s actually a professional spy/assassin, then wouldn’t she a.) know how to defuse a bomb SHE PLANTED HERSELF and b.) know that she wouldn’t have time to defuse the bomb SHE PLANTED HERSELF? I gave the plot a 5 because of things like that, which were possible but not plausible or which should have been explained but weren’t. But mainly, the plot gets a 5 for being utterly non-innovative and very, very predictable. I’m sure that some of you know the answer to some of my questions above, but the fact is that this clearly wasn’t a movie that was trying to get the audience to ask questions – so why was I left questioning details that weren’t all that important in the first place?
I gave the script a mid-range score because I can’t really recall any badly written scenes or poor bits of dialogue. The dialogue wasn’t exactly spectacular or witty but it felt real enough and reasonable given the situations the characters were going through. The acting was probably what rescued the movie from the refuse heap. Qui-Gon…er, Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger had relatively good chemistry with each other, though I can’t help but think that Kruger is a little too pretty, clean and well-dressed to be a illegal immigrant who is presumably living below the poverty line and trying to make mends meet. That scene where we saw her apartment?
Yeah, it didn’t look like she lived in that apartment; it didn’t make sense that the apartment was so dirty but somehow she wasn’t. I was going to make a point under the plot section about the movie lacking an emotional response to the confusion Neeson’s character should have been feeling, but Nesson did a great job, conveying his character’s thoughts visually rather than verbally. Without his acting chops, the emotional reaction from his character would have come almost solely from those half-assed flashbacks. It’s safe to say that Kruger and Neeson keep this movie afloat with the strength of their performances. At times, when plausibility was stretched tighter than my pants’ elastic, the acting allowed me to continue taking the movie seriously (relatively speaking). I’ve mentioned how I don’t get the point of January Jones’ character, Liz, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I don’t think Jones had anything to do here. I feel it would have been simpler to make Martin Harris a single man, traveling alone and omit Jones from the movie altogether. I don’t have anything against her but all Jones’ had to do the entire movie was stand around and look utterly bored. Given how exciting this movie’s plot was, I don’t think she would have had to act at all. Even so, I’m sure she’s a talented actress, so why was her only facial expression one of dull surprise. I guess it was supposed to say “I know who you really are ‘Harris’, but why are you acting like this?”. What it looked like it was saying was “I’m high right now. Can we shoot this scene later?”
Aidan Quinn, who I can say with some confidence, I’ve never seen or heard of before, had even less to do. In fact, if not for Langella, I’d be convinced he did the bare minimum required to get the ‘starring’ credit to his name. He appears, argues for a bit with Neeson’s character, throws a couple of sissy punches and then dies. I guess he acted okay, but let’s say he’s got some way to go before he silences his critics (which I’m sure he must have). Langella, probably appears on screen for all of 5 minutes. He appears solely to extract an expository scene from Jurgen and then dies in his next scene. Talk about 2 scene wonder, but definitely without the wonder part. He wasn’t acting. He was talking. I’ve heard Langella talk (youtube) and his acting voice here was the same as his talking voice. How the fuck do you get paid good money to basically remember some words, dress up and repeat them in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY YOU WOULD NORMALLY TALK. There was no special tone of voice to indicate that maybe he was sorry he had to kill his protégé, no real friendliness when he spoke to Jurgen as Professor Cole. By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t referred to Jurgen’s actor by name, it’s because apparently he wasn’t important enough to get the starring credit – he had perhaps three times the screen time as Langella but Bruno Ganz, the guy who actually acted (!) out his part of the badass old man, with the sinister references to his past and his tired, jaded outlook on life, doesn’t get starring credit (at least according to Wikipedia). I don’t understand Hollywood.
There weren’t really any special effects; it wasn’t that kind of movie, so I don’t have a lot to say about them. They tried to add some car chases and explosions, but I felt that the movie would be better served by not having to rely on fast action and loud noises to resolves their conflicts. To be fair, the car chases were kind of cool, if not quite groundbreaking. I did feel that Cole’s fiery, explosive death was a touch overdone though. Couldn’t you just shoot the guy? You’d save thousands in costs and there would be literally ZERO impact on the movies.
Hell, you could even have had Harris shoot him, y’know, just to make Harris a little bit of a badass rather than being the dude who runs away the whole movie but somehow suddenly remembers enough in the final scene to defeat a highly trained assassin. That sound you heard in the final scene was plausibility snapping and collapsing in on itself. I gave the production a 7 though, because I thought that the director did a pretty good job putting this movie together. I can’t hold the plot against him though I have to wonder how high his mortgages must be from him to accept this kind of script/movie.
In all fairness, the movie wasn’t unwatchable, far from it, thanks to the acting. It’s just that I never got a real sense of conflict from Harris’ character. I had a feeling at the very beginning that this might be the kind of movie that would make us question the characters sanity (must have got it mixed up with Shutter Island) or at least make him question it (sort of like A Beautiful Mind) instead, we could be almost 100% sure right from the get go, that there is in fact a conspiracy working against ‘Harris’ rather than his own mind. That sort of took a lot of the fun out of it for me. Not a bad movie, though I left the cinema with a sense of disappointment at how neatly everything was wrapped up. On hindsight, I suppose 5 is a fairly good reflection of the movie. Let me just end by saying, the word ‘Unknown’ refers only to the character’s name, and has nothing to do with the movie itself.